At Weinberger Law Group, our attorneys are dedicated to supporting the needs of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender) community. We understand that couples pursuing a same-sex marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership can face unique challenges — and have unique needs. Our attorneys have extensive experience in meeting the needs of non-traditional couples and families, and we are committed to staying on the leading edge of this rapidly evolving area of law.
Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
The federal government began to recognize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages after the June 2013 decision of the United States Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor. Same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey in October of 2013, following the New Jersey Superior Court decision of Garden State Equality v. Dow. In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court case invalidated the bans imposed by the remaining 13 states by holding, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that same-sex couples had the fundamental right to marry in all 50 states. All states are now required to allow same-sex marriages, and same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to all of the same state and federal benefits throughout the United States.
Under current New Jersey law, couples already in civil unions or domestic partnerships can marry their current legal partners without first terminating their existing civil union or domestic partnership, and the prior relationship will remain intact following marriage.
For a detailed time-line chronicling major developments in the struggle for marriage equality in New Jersey, see: Status of Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
New Jersey Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
In 2007, the New Jersey Civil Union Law granted couples of the same sex the right to enter into legal relationships conferring the same state rights (but not the same federal rights) granted to opposite-sex married couples. The civil union law remains intact following the legalization of same-sex marriage. Couples who choose to enter into or remain in civil unions rather than marrying will continue to be treated no differently than married couples in New Jersey, but at this time they cannot expect to receive all of the federal benefits available to married couples.
The New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act, effective since 2004, granted limited rights to registered domestic partners, including certain health care, insurance and state pension rights, the right to file a joint state tax return, and the right to inherit from a partner without a will. A major difference between domestic partnerships and civil unions or marriages is that domestic partners do not share property rights or responsibility for debts, and domestic partners are not eligible for alimony (spousal support) if the relationship ends.
Since 2007, only couples 62 years of age or older (whether opposite-sex or same-sex) can enter into new domestic partnerships. Domestic partnerships entered into prior to that date remain valid unless the partners have legally ended them or have taken the required steps to enter into a civil union with each other. Entering into a civil union with a current domestic partner automatically ends the domestic partnership.
Traveling or Moving between States and Countries
Regardless of whether or not same-sex couples choose to marry or to remain in civil unions or domestic partnerships, they should be aware that not all other countries will recognize their legal unions as valid. Civil union and domestic partner couples must be prepared for possible confusion regarding rights when traveling from state-to-state as well as out of the country, as there is no federal uniformity as to these alternate forms of intimate partnership. As an extra measure of security, some couples may wish to have an attorney draft financial and health care powers of attorney for themselves and for any children they may have, and be sure to carry such documents with them when traveling. This can help protect rights should unanticipated circumstances arise; for example, if one partner needs to go to an emergency clinic or hospital. When in doubt, a consultation with an attorney can help put any ongoing concerns to rest.
The state of New Jersey recognizes all unions that were legally formed in another country or state. This means that while you are in New Jersey, you will continue to benefit from the legal protections of whatever form of partnership you entered into in another state or country. It also means that you must legally end any such relationship through the appropriate court procedure before you are free to enter into a new marriage, civil union or domestic partnership in New Jersey.
Terminating Legal Relationships in New Jersey
No matter where you entered into your legal relationship, you may be able to terminate it in New Jersey as long as one partner has been a resident of the state for at least one year. There are no differences, other than in designation of the form of relationship, in the process for ending a marriage, a civil union, or a domestic partnership. Ending a domestic partnership, however, tends to involve fewer legal issues, due to the differences in rights discussed above. In addition, same-sex couples in marriages and civil unions may face certain issues more frequently that opposite-sex couples.
For more information about ending same-sex relationships in New Jersey, see: Same-Sex Divorce and Dissolution of Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
Custody & Visitation Rights for Non-Biological Parents
Many same-sex couples adopt children or have children who are the biological offspring of only one partner. Many non-biological parents in same-sex relationships pursue second-parent adoption. Parental rights in same-sex relationships can be complex. Other issues that often impact LGBT parents include rights in assisted reproduction or psychological parenting.
For more information on issues affecting current or prospective LGBT parents, see:
Parental Rights in Assisted Reproduction
Psychological Parenting Doctrine in New Jersey
If you have questions about same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, or about your rights as a parent in a same-sex relationship, we can help. Our experienced and compassionate attorneys are knowledgeable about all legal aspects of LGBT relationships and we can assist you with adoption, second-parent adoption, de facto or psychological parent status, as well as all phases of your divorce or dissolution.
Call us today: (888) 888-0919 to schedule your free initial consultation.